There’s a persistent nugget of common sense that keeps floating around the web indicating that people who read ebooks read more books than those who read paper books. It’s reared its adorable little head again on the WSJ this week, and I think it’s worth analysing it a bit deeper. Snip:
A study of 1,200 e-reader owners by Marketing and Research Resources Inc. found that 40% said they now read more than they did with print books. Of those surveyed, 58% said they read about the same as before while 2% said they read less than before. And 55% of the respondents in the May study, paid for by e-reader maker Sony Corp., thought they’d use the device to read even more books in the future.
You can see why people want it to be true (people other than Sony, that is). Ebooks are a bit of a boogeyman for publishers and booksellers – some of them like to pretend that ebooks spell (variously) the end of the book, the end of reading and the end of the bookstore. However, if it turns out that ebook readers read more books than paper book readers (and more importantly, buy more ebooks than paper book readers) then the amount of money that books make for everyone will increase, which will reverse a worrying downward trend in both reading and book buying over the past decade.
But the questions is – is it true? It’s obviously a very difficult thing to prove at this point. As the WSJ points out itself, it’s a bit too early to tell if the increase in reading will continue after the lure of the new gadgetry wears off. Nonetheless, let us indulge ourselves in some idle speculation.
It’s true that the early adopters of ereaders are likely to be both gadget-fiends and fairly big readers already. However, it’s very likely that the penetration of ereaders and ebooks into the ordinary book buying public will occur for a few key reasons, each of which, I believe, is directly related to why ebook readers read more books than paper book readers.
Firstly, there’s what’s called interstitial, or cereal-box reading. That is, ereaders and ebook technology lends itself towards the type of reading you do from the back of a cereal box while scoffing down your breakfast. And, let’s face it, the average person spends three years of their life on the toilet – what better time to finally finish Ulysses? (Especially if it’s already sitting on the iPhone you have in your pocket).
There’s also the ease of purchase. Despite the teething problems readers are experiencing at the moment in regards to book availability, pricing and territorial copyright, the digitisation of other industries has proven that these things eventually settle down. Not only are we already in a position to quite easily read The Passage while lining up in the pub or waiting for a YouTube video to load (two of the most distasteful waiting times in a modern human’s life), we can also buy, download and begin reading Mockingjay when we finish it without leaving our spot.
Tied in to the ease of purchase, of course, is the availability. How often have you gone into a bookshop looking for a book and left without it because it wasn’t in stock? How often do you end up tracking that book down elsewhere? If you’re lazy like me – almost never. When the ebook teething problems are sorted out, that will be a problem of the past.
So, to sum up: when it’s easier, faster and cheaper to get books, and you convert more interstitial time into time to read books – you will probably read and buy more books, irrespective of whether you’re a gadget freak or a book lover. What do you think? Are you convinced by my tenuous argument, or do you think the ebook is the end of civilisation? Sound off in the comments.